What to say to someone struggling with mental illness

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Talking about mental illness with a friend or family member can be difficult.

The stigmas surrounding mental illnesses often make it a topic of taboo. Even families with a history of mental health issues often keep that hushed, but it's important for relatives to know if this could increase their risks.

Learning to become more open about mental illness is important, even if it's just one-on-one or in private family settings. One of the most debilitating aspects of a mental disorder can be the avoidance that comes when family or friends are confronted with it or are unsure what to do or say about it. Often this avoidance comes at a time when the sufferer needs loved ones the most.

Offer Empathy and Support

The best way to help those around you who are suffering from the effects of mental illness is to be supportive and empathetic to them. Offer to help by giving a ride, taking care of the kids while they're at an appointment, or just taking them out for lunch so you can listen to their worries.

On your own, you should try to become educated about what your friend or loved one is going through. Learn about their mental health issues, the diagnosis they have, and what types of symptoms and inner experiences it can create. This helps you to listen and be more empathetic and will likely give you clues as to how you can help.

Finally, be careful of the phrases you use when talking with your loved one. Avoid saying definitive words like "should," as these imply that he or she has failed. Instead, use "try to" in order to encourage your loved one to be happier and get past the worry.

Overcoming the Stigma

There are many cultural stigmas around mental illness, most of which are unnecessary. Families and friends, at least when together, should be open about mental health and illnesses. For privacy or other reasons, the person suffering may not want his or her problems to be public, but when one-on-one or in family groups, the topic should be relatively open, though treated sensitively.

For example, no one has trouble talking about Aunt Marge's arthritis and its side effects, so why isn't Uncle Bob's depression the same? It should be. Family should realize that it's not their fault that the illness exists. It just is. There is no blame. This is often the primary issue keeping some from talking about a mental health issue openly; they fear blame or feel guilty for a perceived part in it.

Family counseling, even for just a few sessions, often breaks down those stigma barriers and creates a more open attitude among the loved ones helping someone deal with a mental illness.

Above all, family and friends should be supportive and involved, but should not coddle or over-indulge the illness. One of the best ways you can likely help a loved one with a mental illness is to just be there to talk or lend a hand.

 
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